Nick’s Blog

Dark matter is like God

by Nick on Mar.10, 2010, under Rants

I am not sure this really counts as a rant because I am not in any way angry about it.  I was watching Horizon on the BBC last night. It was asking if everything we think we know about the universe is wrong. They had talked to a theoretical physicist (he looked real to me) and he was saying that the Universe is not behaving in the way that Newtonian physics predicts. So he and many other physicists had come up with the concept of dark matter. This is material that does not interact with the materials that we know and does not absorb, reflect, or scatter light. (continue reading…)

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Nearly one less biker

by Nick on Mar.05, 2010, under On The Road

Actually the title suggests I think that would be a good thing. Not in the least bit but I’m prepared to make an exception in this case. (continue reading…)

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Big brother is watching you even more closely

by Nick on Feb.01, 2010, under On The Road

In 2012 the Dutch government hopes that all car drivers will be forced to fit a little box to their cars. This GPS equipped box will apparently record every movement that the car makes and report generalised data back to government HQ. At this stage the technical details of this generalised data are rather sketchy but I suppose, in principle, if the spy box is forced to report only that you travelled 40Km in rush hour along an A class road during the month of December then I’d probably be happier. But this does not quite square with the other claims I’ve heard. (continue reading…)

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My belief in evolution

by Nick on Jan.10, 2010, under Rants

You can call it a faith if you like because without proof you can only believe that something is true. However my belief is that we did indeed climb out of some kind of soup (no not looking like we do today) and evolved from there. What I do not believe is that around 5000 years ago some mystical figure created everything and has been watching our every move ever since.

Now I am prepared to admit that we have no real proof that this did not happen but equally we have no proof that evolution did not happen. However, today, I stumbled across a channel called the family channel. And showing on that channel was a programme aimed at debunking evolution and proving that the only realistic alternative was creationism.

At one point in the programme they pointed out some holes in evolution (I believe Darwin was responsible for making these observations and he left it to future generations to fill in the gaps). Amongst these were things like how statistically unlikely the first proteins were and how there are missing links in the fossil records. They then concluded that because of the lack of proof then it must all be false.

Well if they are going to use that argument then how about using it against their own beliefs. I mean lets face it, they have lack of proof written into the instruction manual. So if lack of proof is what it takes to debunk a theory then perhaps creationism is not true either.

At this point you might be wandering if I am agnostic or atheist. Well the problem is that I believe in scientific principle. And that means you come up with an idea and you work damn hard to prove it true. Atheism is a form of disorganised religion where you firmly believe there is no god. I firmly believe that there is no god and so I am an atheist. However that also makes me a poor scientist because without proof an atheist is simply a believer in nothing. So I am also prepared to allow for other possibilities such as God kick-started the whole life thing and it went from there, or we are all sitting in a giant computer simulation and the operator/designer of that simulation is what the religious people call God. I hold out no hope that these will be proven true and I will not be spending my time trying to get others to believe them. I am still firmly convinced that more and more evidence for evolution will be found and I am convinced that when that proof is found it will be dismissed as irrelevant by those that believe in a god.

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Getting back in touch

by Nick on Dec.03, 2009, under Blogging

Many, many years ago I worked in the UK for a company in Birmingham. I was only there for around eight months but I still have great memories of the time and especially how friendly my colleagues were. A good example was on the first day when another colleague accidentally walked off with my coat and keys to the car making driving home impossible. Possibly this is the reason that to this day I never leave my coat on a shared coat stand. (continue reading…)

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Big brother is watching us

by Nick on Dec.03, 2009, under On The Road

Every morning I travel along the A4 to work and every evening back again. I try to travel really early (before 7am) to avoid the rush hour. A few days ago we received a letter at home saying they had been monitoring the road and could I fill in a form asking about my journey. My reaction to this is scepticism, on the face of this it is just a survey to find out when and why people are travelling. But frankly my problem with this is as follows.

There are two ways to ease congestion, one is to make sure the roads are wide enough to cope with everyone that wants to use the road. If this is the case then you do not need to know why someone is travelling, all you need to do is look at the road and get an idea of how much traffic is using the road and how much more room will be needed to allow the traffic to flow freely. Of course if you make a road wider then more people will be inclined to use it and often that will mean widening again.

The other way to reduce congestion is to tax people off the road so that only those with deep pockets or a desperate need can use the roads. Schemes in the UK have shown that this works nicely and if the money were ploughed into the infrastructure of public transport then I think I’d be OK with this. The government here in the Netherlands are now introducing something called rekeningrijden. What it means is you pay for every kilometre you travel and then you pay extra round some of the bigger cities to travel in the rush hour.

A way to look at this is that those with the ability to pay will have the roads cleared of troublesome poor people so they can get to work more quickly. Well I have another idea, perhaps you could have a tariff that is directly proportional to the environmental impact of the vehicle.  The more polluting vehicles will pay more while the smaller cleaner vehicles will perhaps even go free. This alone would clear out some of the larger polluters (the ones most people want to see off the road) but I’d go further. Buying your access to the road would be in the form of a smart card that gives you so much credit. You are not allowed to top up the card beyond a certain limit.  For a small clean vehicle this limit might be enough to do a months travel round town but for larger vehicle it might mean topping up two or three times a week. So for those that travel huge distances in large vehicles they might even find themselves having to stop in while filling up with petrol to top up the card. Naturally there might have to be some exceptions such as for buses and goods vehicles but not for lease cars.

So back to my survey. Why do they need to know the purpose of my journey? Well I’m guessing that they are wanting to know if the morning rush hour has started. How would you define that? Well if everyone (or the majority of people) travelling at a particular time are doing so for work then it must be the rush hour yes? This would then allow the government to say “Ha, Mr Askew, you were travelling in the rush hour so come on pay up.”. It will not matter when I travel, the fact that I am travelling for work means as long as enough other people are then it is the rush hour. So frankly what business is it of the government why I am travelling. There job is to provide an infrastructure that allows us to live and not simply impose another scheme that hands to those that have at the expense of the have nots.

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Zwarte Piet (beloved characature or symbol of racism)

by Nick on Nov.18, 2009, under Blogging

Much of what I’m writing here is based on the article in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zwarte_Piet).

In the mid 1990′s my wife and I moved to the Netherlands. It was late in the year and it was not long before we encountered Sinterklaas and his helpers Zwarte Piet. For those not familiar with the story here is a very short summary. In mid November Sinterklaas arrives on a steam boat from Spain bringing toys and helpers. Over the coming weeks these toys are distributed to the children by the helpers as the children leave shoes, carrots (for Sinterklaas’ horse), and drawings.

The arrival of Sinterklaas is televised and much is made of his presence in the land over the following weeks until finally on the 5th of December big presents are shared during a family evening. Over the weeks there are often parades and Piet can be seen handing out sweets to the children and often being a little mischievous. (continue reading…)

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Modelio (Free Edition UML Editor)

by Nick on Nov.17, 2009, under Development

Note: Please read all the review because since writing the review I’ve been contacted by Modelio and found a workaround for the problems encountered.

This is not going to be a very in depth review. It is simply a quick summary. The first thing I want to say about Modelio is actually about me. I am not an experienced UML user. I’ve given it several goes but recently I joined a new organisation and they tend to use Visio. My problem is that Vision does not know it is creating UML and does not therefore give you the assistance that a dedicated package gives. Modelio seems to cover most of the different UML diagrams quite nicely and is easy to use. It comes in various flavours including a free edition and it was this free edition that I was using.

I managed to create quite a nice state diagram and it even supported nested state diagrams so that I was able to create sub states. I’ve now moved on to sequence diagrams and found it seems to be able to deal with them nicely and has the intelligence to be able to link to class diagrams too.

However it was around this time that I discovered the big fly in the ointment. Modelio Free does not support everything that the commercial versions support and I would not have expected it to but perhaps the biggest pain in the backside and the reason I could never recommend this software to anyone came when it was time to upgrade to a newer version. I downloaded the software, installed it, luckily selecting to leave version 1.0.1 in place, and then tried to open my model in version 1.1. It detected that I needed to migrate the model to the newer version and then declared that my license did not allow it. In other words Modelio Free is purely a trial. No serious user is going to accept that, having found a bug in the current version that is fixed in the next, they are going to have to pay for the commercial version.

So sadly I have to conclude that Modelio Free is not for the serious user, it is purely a show case/limited trial version. If you like it you will have to buy it. Don’t get me wrong, it does a nice job but this is not free like Linux or Open Source. This is trial ware and they should make that completely clear on the package.

Update

Since writing the above we first discovered that the features included the ability to upgrade and so contacted Modelio. They have been kind enough to offer me a workaround and tell me that the restriction has been dropped for future versions. This certainly changes my opinion of the software. I have no reservations about calling this free software rather than trial software because it means that as long as there are updates I will be able to move along with them. I’ll add my own findings about the software once I’ve used it a little longer and after I’ve had a chance to use the latest version because any finding that I include now may be wrong for the next release.

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Roundabouts

by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

A little while ago I was driving along towards a roundabout. I was going at a fair but actually legal pace. There was a car on the roundabout and it was my plan to drop in behind him as he went past. However I noticed that there was a van on the roundabout behind him so realised I’d have to stop and began to slow. The car driver saw me and clearly panicked believing that I was about to try to enter the roundabout ahead of him. He slammed on the breaks and brought his car to a complete halt on the roundabout right in front of me. He could not have aligned his has better for a side on collision even if he had tried. By this time my car was no longer moving and the van driver managed to avoid slamming into the back of him too.

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Lanes

by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

On the A4 north there is a stretch of road that is 5 lanes wide but at the weekend and off peak times the 5th lane is closed. I have no idea why, perhaps they hope it will not wear out as quickly or more likely they feel that bunching people into 4 lanes will keep them moving more slowly. So I was driving along slightly above the speed limit possibly (I think 125 km/h instead of 120 km/h) in the 4th lane and gradually overtaking someone in the 3rd lane. My progress past this person was not quick but as I was already at (or possibly above) the speed limit I was happy to tootle along. Then suddenly I noticed some guy behind me clearly in a hurry, flashing hit lights at me.

So to recap. To my right was another car, to my left was a perfectly empty lane with a few red X’s above saying it was closed. And behind was some idiot who had decided that ignoring the speed limit was perfectly OK with him but ignoring a couple of red X’s was simply out of the question. So behind me he remained until I was able to pull into the third lane. To complete the manoeuvre he put his foot to the floor and blasted his horn at me.

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